Chad Daybell found guilty of murder in deaths of two kids and first wife

An Idaho doomsday author who prosecutors say became obsessed with apocalyptic beliefs and labeled people as “zombies” and “dark spirits” was found guilty Thursday in the deaths of his first wife and his current wife’s two youngest children. 

The verdict concludes Chad Daybell’s nearly two-month trial in the deaths of his first wife, Tammy Daybell, and Joshua “JJ” Vallow, 7, and Tylee Ryan, 16.

Daybell, wearing a blue-collared shirt and yellow tie, stood stoically as the jury found him guilty of all counts against him including insurance fraud.

The children’s remains were found in June 2020 on Daybell’s property in Fremont County, Idaho. Police said they believed Daybell hid the remains between September 2019 and June 2020.

Joshua Vallow and Tylee Ryan.Fremont County Sheriff’s Office

Tammy Daybell died in 2019, weeks before Chad Daybell and Lori Vallow married. Her death was initially considered to be natural causes, but her remains were later exhumed. Following an autopsy, her death was determined to be a homicide by asphyxiation.

Daybell, along with Vallow, were indicted in 2021 on charges of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit first-degree murder and grand theft by deception in the children’s deaths.

They were also charged with insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in connection with Tammy’s death. In addition, Chad Daybell was charged with first-degree murder in her death.

Vallow was convicted in May and received multiple life sentences in prison without the possibility of parole.

Zombies, dark spirits and mysterious deaths

The case began in 2019 after several concerned family members told Rexburg police that they had not seen or talked to Joshua and Tylee. Police formally started looking for the children that November.

Authorities had accused Daybell and Vallow of failing to cooperate with the investigation into the children’s disappearance and lying to police about their whereabouts. They had initially told officers that Joshua, who was adopted and had special needs, was in Arizona with a family friend, but police determined it was a lie.

The couple abruptly left Rexburg and went to Hawaii. In February 2020, Vallow was taken into custody by police in Hawaii after she failed to produce the children to authorities in Idaho.

As the investigation into the children’s whereabouts continued, police uncovered a trail of mysterious deaths connected to the couple.

Vallow’s fourth husband, Charles Vallow, was fatally shot in July 2019 by her brother, Alex Cox. Five months later, Cox died from a pulmonary embolism, a condition that causes one or more arteries to become blocked by a blood clot. (Lori Vallow and her brother had initially said that Charles Vallow was shot in self-defense. Lori Vallow was later charged in Arizona, where she and Charles lived, with conspiracy to commit murder in the first degree. Cox was never charged.)

In October 2019, Daybell’s first wife, Tammy Daybell, was found dead of what was believed to be natural causes at the time.

Chad Daybell and Vallow married two weeks after Tammy’s funeral, NBC affiliate KSL of Salt Lake City reported. In December 2019, investigators exhumed Tammy’s body and conducted an autopsy that ruled her death a homicide.

In opening statements in Chad Daybell’s murder trial, prosecutors said that Lori Vallow and Daybell, a self-published author of more than two dozen books about doomsday and near-death events, had become obsessed with apocalyptic beliefs and labeled people who stood in the way of their dreams as “zombies” and “dark spirits.”

“You’ll hear in the world Chad and Lori planned for themselves, they identified those who stood in the way of their dream as dark,” Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood said.

“Their spouses, Lori’s own children and anyone who opposed them were labeled sometimes as dark spirits or even zombies,” he added.

Vallow’s niece, Melani Pawlowski, testified that the couple believed people could be possessed by evil spirits and that “zombies” would eventually be overcome by a dark spirit and die.

Prosecuting Attorney Lindsey Blake reiterated Wood’s remarks, insinuating in closing arguments Wednesday that Daybell was the mastermind behind the couple’s scheme and decided who was “dark.” 

“Chad has the answers, Chad has the knowledge, Chad has that special ability,” she said.  

Once he deemed a person dark, they had to be killed, she said. 

Children’s remains found in pet cemetery and fire pit

Rexburg Police Detective Ray Hermosillo testified at Daybell’s trial about the moment officers found the children’s remains.

Court documents revealed that Joshua had been buried in a pet cemetery on the property and Tylee had been dismembered and burned in a fire pit. 

“There were taller shrubs. In the middle of the 6-by-6 section, it looked like there was just a little bit of grass,” Hermosillo said about law enforcement discovering Joshua’s remains under a tree.

“The ERT team began excavating that site. They removed the top layer of soil. … At that point, you could see what appeared to be three large white rocks,” he told the jury. “As soon as they did that you could start to smell the odor, through my training experiences a decomposing body.”

The detective said officials found a “small body wrapped in black plastic with duct tape around it.”

Hermosillo told the court that Daybell tried to flee “as soon as that was discovered.”

Dr. Garth Warren with the Ada County Coroner’s Office testified that “Tylee was received in multiple” body bags.

One body bag had smaller bags inside that contained “multiple collections of soft tissue, bone and debris including dirt and rock,” he said. The second body bag contained pieces of a “melted green bucket” and a “collection of human remains” and organs including the heart and lungs, he told jurors.

“This isn’t what heart and lungs typically look like,” he said as jurors were shown photos. “They’re obviously charred, portions of them are burned away and significantly shrunken as well.”

In the third bag was a portion of a “blackened and charred” skull, Warren said, as well as a portion of a jaw with “partially charred” teeth. The remains were identified as Tylee’s through dental X-rays, he said.

Daybell’s children come to his defense

Daybell’s son and daughter testified in his defense, telling the court that he “valued” their mother, Tammy Daybell, and was distraught over her death.

“He was more distressed than I ever seen him in my entire life,” his daughter, Emma Murray, told the court. “I was used to my parents being in control and in charge and seeing him so distressed and emotionally out of control was very scary to me. I didn’t doubt his grief at all.”

Murray said her mother had some health issues and would bruise easily. Before her death, her mother had been working on becoming more physically fit, Murray said.

At the trial, Murray was questioned about Joshua and Tylee. She told the court that when she asked her father where the children were, he told her that they were in a “safe place.”


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